On September 1, 2012, I held my breath and pushed the KDP "Publish" button for the first time, and sent off my first three books into the world.
I had never read a craft book or taken a writing class. My first book was my first fiction. I started writing it, and it just--boom. Felt like I'd found what I was born to do, 50 years AFTER I was born. I thought the books were pretty good, but, man, I really had no idea.
Boy, was I nervous. I just prayed I wouldn't crash and burn, and hoped in my wildest dreams that I'd make back my $1,400 investment by Christmas.
It took 10 days.
So it's been four years. In that time, I've written 20 books (about 2 million words in all--average length about 100K). I've sold (or had borrowed) about 700,000 books in ebook, audio, German ebook, and print (very few there!). I've made $1.43 million dollars [edited; I added wrong], and in 2016, for the first time, I should crack the $500K/year mark. This past year, I wrote 600,000 edited words--another personal record.
So--yeah. That's not bad. And yet...and yet. I still compare myself to other, better-selling authors all the time. I still hear that it's much more profitable to write 50K or 70K books, which I could get out there every month or six weeks, instead of every two and a half or three months. I still hear advice about studying the market and dissecting books and writing to trend, and wonder, "Should I do that?"
And still...what I actually DO, always, is write exactly what I want to write. I still need a few weeks between books to think up the new one. I still write in three or four subgenres in romance instead of sticking to one thing, with not always optimal results sales-wise. I still jump around in series instead of dancing with the one what brung me. I still write 2K to 8K a day instead of 10K, because I edit extremely heavily as I go, and I go back over and over my work to polish it. I'm a little faster than I used to be--writing a 100K book still takes about six weeks, as it did from the start, but editing has gone from a month to a week. But I don't use any techniques to get faster. I'm still in Select and not wide. I've still never put a nekkid manchest on one of my covers.
Basically, "artist me" wins every time. (Though I feel pretty uncomfortable with that "artist" label--call it "craftsman me.") What I want above all else is to learn and grow and try new things and take risks, as uncomfortable and scary as it is. Fortunately, I have some readers who will read me across subgenres and series, and my sales stay fairly steady over time; my early books still sell. So--it's a different way to "do" a career, but it's not bad.
I'm still struggling to accept that doing it my way probably means never cracking the really big time. I'll say I want to, but I'll start that new series anyway. Because I don't need a million dollars a year. I NEED the creative fulfillment of meeting that challenge, of pushing that new boundary, of writing in first person or writing a mystery that really works. Whatever it is.
I think my way "works," inasmuch as it does, because I do understand at a fundamental level what readers in my genre are reading for. It's not really "about" billionaires, stepbrothers, bear shifters, rock stars, or motorcycle guys. (Which is lucky for me.) It's about escape, and fun, and above all else, emotion. It's about believing in these people, feeling with these people. It's about being taken for a ride, even if that's not a bumpy rollercoaster one (I tend to write at the lower-drama end of the scale).
There are lots of readers out there. Figure out what your genre's readers really want, underneath the surface trappings, and satisfy that need. You might never hit seven figures a year, but maybe you'll get to spend a few months in New Zealand every year. And that's pretty nice.